Innovation, education and alliances = success for CEA Summit East

Attendees came from 33 U.S. states, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden.

by CEA inSight
CEA Summit East 2023

Strengthening alliances, sharing information and forging new relationships were key themes that drove the 2023 edition of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Summit East held at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville, Virginia, September 19-20.

Co-hosted by Indoor Ag-Con and the Virginia Tech – IALR Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center, CEA Summit East’s 2nd annual edition attracted 240 attendees from 33 U.S. states, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden. Growers, educators, scientists, Extension specialists, suppliers, engineers, tech specialists, architects, developers and other CEA industry members and affiliates comprised an audience that came to give, receive and grow.

The day-and-a-half event was packed with opportunities to meet, network and learn during keynotes, panels and breakout conference sessions. Twenty-one tabletop exhibits presented the latest CEA innovations and services.

“It’s exciting to see this event grow in both attendance and vendor/sponsor support,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO, Indoor Ag-Con. “Together with the CEA Innovation Center, we’re building a strong event where business and academia unite to drive our industry forward.”

Scott Lowman, Co-Director, Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center and Vice President, Applied Research, IALR added, “The CEA Summit exemplifies the collaborative spirit that defines our mission. It’s rewarding to see industry leaders from all sectors of CEA convene here to share lessons learned, best practices, research findings and ways to help accelerate our collective growth.”

Event highlights included:

Morning kick-off keynotes

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr kicked off opening morning with his keynote address, “Virginia’s Commitment to Next Generation Agriculture: Leading the Indoor Farming Revolution.”

On the 2nd day, AeroFarms President and CFO Guy Blanchard opened the event with a keynote that came on the heels of the company’s announcement that it had emerged fully funded from Chapter 11.

Educational tracks

The CEA Summit featured four educational tracks: Grower; Business & Marketing; Up & Coming Technology and Education; Outreach & Workforce Development. The tracks brought academics, growers and business experts together covering a wide range of topics ranging from scaling up and negotiating energy costs to the future of CEA crops, getting started in aquaponics, and lessons learned from recent college graduates entering the CEA sector.

Attendees heard from CEA industry experts, including Better Future Farms founder and COO John McMahon discussing financial sustainability for CEA growers, and CropKing owner and CEO Paul Brentlinger talking about new possibilities and emerging trends in CEA crops.

Other panel discussions and 15-minute CEA Industry & Research Showcase sessions gave attendees the chance to hear about some of the latest research findings and other industry success stories.

Graduate Student Poster Competition

This year’s summit kicked off a new CEA Poster Competition with a three-fold goal: provide an opportunity for graduate students to share high-quality CEA-related research, expose commercial companies to qualified candidates, and foster collaboration between individuals in academia and in private industry.

Six finalists competed and Nelda Hernandez, Auburn University, took first prize for her poster, “Hydroponics as an Alternative Production System for Strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) in Alabama.”

CEA Innovation Center Tour

The event wrapped up with group tours of the CEA Innovation Center. Ninety-plus conference attendees took advantage of the unique opportunity to get an inside look at the CEA Innovation Center’s hydroponic systems and facilities, including the greenhouse and vertical growing racks, and see some the Center’s exciting research projects firsthand.

Stay tuned for information and updates about next year’s CEA Summit East.

Image courtesy of CEA Summit East.

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